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City seeks to lift federal oversight of LAPD

June 15, 2009 |  2:24 pm

For years, the Los Angeles Police Department has been looking to get out from under the federal government’s heavy oversight of department practices. On Monday, police brass were told they would have to wait at least a few more weeks.

Attorneys for the city of Los Angeles and the U.S. Department of Justice jointly submitted a proposal to U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess, asking that the LAPD be freed from the agreement it was forced to sign by the Justice Department nearly nine years ago on the heels of the Rampart corruption scandal.

In the so-called consent decree, which Feess has overseen, the LAPD promised to implement a sweeping set of reforms and gave federal monitors access to gauge its progress. With the majority of the roughly 200 reforms in place and police leaders eager to move beyond the stigma of federal oversight, city and U.S. attorneys had asked that the consent decree be terminated in favor of a “transition agreement.”

Under the terms of the new proposal, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD would assume responsibility from federal monitors for making sure the LAPD follows through on the remaining changes. Among the outstanding issues is the department’s ongoing effort to strengthen its stance against racial profiling by officers.

In a lengthy morning hearing, Feess acknowledged that the LAPD had come a long way, but refused to go along with the plan. He expressed doubt about the idea of doing away with the current agreement and putting in place another that, he said, does not address several important issues.

The proposal, he said, left his authority over the department vague and did not make clear whether concerned outside groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, would continue to have a seat at the table.

When asked by Feess for his comments, federal monitor Michael Cherkasky said he believed the push to end the decree stems from the negative “symbolic nature” of the agreement. The idea of continuing the consent decree, he said, has pushed the LAPD to a “psychological breaking point.”

The idea seemed to have little sway with Feess, who said: “I don’t know there is anything anyone can say about that.”

Police Chief William J. Bratton in recent months has made no secret of his desire to be done with the decree, saying the continued oversight hurts officers' morale. After the hearing, Bratton reiterated the idea, saying: “The psychological impact cannot be underestimated. It is time to move on.”

-- Joel Rubin